Last Monday Bob and I looked at each other and said, "So you wanna do something this weekend?" We did "wanna." Wednesday I really started trying to put something together, looking up destinations and drive times, and called Bob to ask about spending the night away. He called back later and said he would have Friday off from work, so we could go Friday and come back Saturday. Cool! I was on the computer ALL day Wednesday and all morning Thursday, getting a plan in place. Thursday night we went to Mildenhall for gas and a shower curtain rod, which we want to use to hang backdrops on in our new studio (used to be the storage room, but I cleaned it out this week). Well, they were sold out of shower rods, but we did fill up with gas.
Friday morning we got our pillows and food, and Naysha only just remembered the toothbrushes, and headed out (we had the clothes, playpen, and sleeping bags already in the van Thursday) by 8:15. We stopped in Newmarket for a minute to get cash (we realized a week or so ago that the banks in town give a better exchange rate than the one on base), and then onto the A14, to the A1 headed for The North.
Our first stop, just over 2 hours later, was in Blidworth. Ever heard of it? It is the legendary home of Maid Marion (in whom I've never really believed, since Howard Pyle didn't write about her), and the final resting place of Will Scarlet. We found his grave with a little trouble, and enjoyed the view from the cemetery, as Blidworth is on a hill.
About 30 minutes from there is Bolsover Castle. Not related to Robin Hood, but it's part of English Heritage and therefore free for us, and it was close. It's an interesting place. The "little castle" - like the keep - is a maze of rooms, and most are highly decorated. The children's audio tour warned them that there may be some "rude" pictures and they should try not to giggle. Hmph. We just didn't go into 3 of the rooms because the paintings were quite "rude." The fountain out back was also pretty rude, so we tried to avoid that as well. We each bought something at the gift shop - the boys finally got a bow and arrow.
Oh, I nearly forgot! There were no signs for the castle from the main road, so we made a guess when Bob saw a street named "Castle Lane," but we went the wrong way on it. We were tired, hungry, and stressed from the traffic, so found a parking place which just happened to be in front of the city park. So we had our picnic lunch there, before heading up to the castle, and the children got to play a little bit.
The view from the castle was pretty terrific, but the weather, though sunny, was hazy.
Then came the highlight of day one - Sherwood Forest! I'd been there once before, but it was on New Years Day (or New Years Eve) and it was FREEZING and I had a cold and the trees were all bare and it was just miserable. This time it was hot but worth it. Very foresty. The path down to Major Oak was nice and wide and smooth, but we didn't know if it would be so we didn't take the stroller. Beside the path were blackberry thickets and ferns that could have easily hidden a hundred bandits, ready to spring out at unwary travelers. The trees were green and bushy, and Bob spotted a bee hive in one. The area around Major Oak was park-like, with picnic tables and even an ice cream truck, and just off to one side was a really picturesque area where we could imagine the outlaws going to lay down (or have private conversation) after a feast in the clearing around the oak. Then Ella announced that she had a dirty diaper, so we headed back to the van for a change. After that we went to the visitor's center, but it was 5 o'clock and they were just closing. We got to see the statue of Robin and Little John fighting on the bridge, but the shops were closed. We thought about walking more, but we were tired and hungry so back to the van again. As we were standing around there, a van went by and a plastic sword came clattering down. Intentional or not, they didn't stop or come back, so now the boys are proud owners of both a sword and a bow.
Oh, Bob gave the children each an archery lesson upon arrival at the forest. Naysha was the first to actually launch an arrow. It reminded me of the "Men in Tights" movie where the villagers are first given their bows. They had another lesson at Major Oak (yes, they carried the bow and arrows all the way down the path), and a final one at returning to the van.
Being quite worn out, we made our way to the hotel, about 30 minutes from the forest. Google maps had us go the wrong way up a one way, restricted access road to get there, but we got there. The hotel was at a "services" exit off the M1 (major highway), and the services were intended purely for people to drive down the M1, take the exit, and get back on the M1. You aren't supposed to get to it from any other road or direction. So we had to cut through the gas station the wrong way to get to the hotel, but we didn't get run over or anything. I checked in, and then we walked across the gas station to the food court thing. There was Burger King, KFC, and "hot food." So we got a family deal at KFC, and it was pretty good. Cost about $30, which is the same as we pay for a filling meal on base. After dinner we went back to the hotel. As we came in the door, the receptionist gave us the stunned look and said, "I didn't realise you had so many children," and offered us a room on the ground floor. Sure. She had the key already in hand, and by the time we got in our room - two doors down - she had our name on the TV welcome screen. She said something to Bob as he brought in the stuff, but it was more like she was worried about us having enough towels and things than like she thought we didn't pay enough.
We hung out for awhile in the HOT room, and then got ready for bed. Bob and I had a double bed, Naysha and Ella shared the sofa bed, William had his playpen, and the other three were in sleeping bags. I had a shower before bed to cool off, but it was still hot and hard to go to sleep. We did have the windows open, but they only opened about 6 inches, so it wasn't as helpful as we would have liked.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early, had our breakfast of cereal that we brought with us, packed up and were out by 8.
We got off our road at one point, choosing to follow the signs rather than rely on google maps, but in one town we came to a roundabout with NO signs, street names, or anything. There wasn't a "straight" option, and we didn't know which way to go. So Bob pulled over onto a convenient wide spot and we tried to figure it. No such luck. I noticed we were right in front of a post office, and got out to ask directions. It was closed still, but there were two people inside, so I rang the bell and the man came over. I asked if he could help, as we were lost. I don;t know if he was afraid or what, but he didn't open the door. He did, however, ask where we wanted to go, and proceeded to give me directions by gesturing and speaking through the keyhole. It was pretty funny to be standing on the street talking through the door, but he got us going the right way.
It was 45 minutes to our first stop - the town of Hathersage, for another graveyard. Here we saw the tomb of Little John, and it was well marked. Bob paced out the grave, and it is 12 feet long. Just for effect, we had Riah, Cedwryck, and Ella lay down toe-to-head beside the grave. The three of them were about the length of it. We went inside the church there, and they had a honor-system book store in the back of the church. We bought 2 books of pictures (one of churches, one of Derbyshire), and a couple of postcards. One postcard was info on Little John, and it said that the tomb had been opened, and the human thigh bone inside was 30 inches long. As Little John said in "Men in Tights," "Don't let the name fool you; in real life I'm very big." In the church was an old tomb (1490something?) of somebody Eyre, which is the inspiration of Bronte's Jane Eyre.
I had found, on a website that Ganieda sent me (Thank you, Ganieda!!!), that down a footpath behind the "Langshaw cafe" was a 'well' (more like a spring) called "Little John's Well." So we drove up and down Hathersage looking for this cafe. We saw 4 pubs and a Deli, but no cafe. So, down a residential street, we stopped and asked a man. Oh! Langshaw is a public park operated by the National Trust, about 3 miles out of town. Good thing we asked. So following the excellent directions given by the man, we found Langshaw, paid to park, and walked down to the visitor center/cafe. Bob went in to ask about the well while I took the children to the toilets. Having obtained directions to the right path, we went for a walk. It was beautiful weather again, and Everybody was out. Every village was full of people just walking up and down; the car parks were full; the paths in and off the park areas were all well used. But anyway, it was a nice walk (we took the stroller this time) through some woods and out across the side of a hill. We would have walked right past the well if I hadn't seen pictures of it online. There were rock steps going down from the path, but as the whole area was rocky, it would be easy to miss. I did see it, however, and we walked down the steps to see a rock trough full of moss and water, which trickled in from under another rock. According to the website, there is no known connection to Little John, but it has always been called that. Riah really enjoyed this time. He climbed rocks, chased sheep, and followed a noisy insect (by sound) around the field.
Then on to the town of Castleton. It was only 10 minutes down the road, and I thought we'd have a picnic at Peveril Castle before walking around, and then go down one of the caverns in town. We found the castle, but it was walking only to get to it (up a quite steep hill); they supposed visitors would park in the town car park at the foot of the hill. So we found the car park, but it was full, due to the aforementioned lovely weather. We circled the area 4 or 5 times, saw a car pull out and went around the loop again to get the spot, but someone else went the wrong way down the one-way isle and got the spot before us. After a couple more laps we saw another car leaving. Bob was able to back into the spot, but we couldn't get either door open - the space was just too narrow. So we sat and considered for a minute, and decided to go on to the cavern, as it said it had parking.
We found it easily enough, and even got the next to the last open parking space, and ate our picnic lunch in the car as we watched the line of people heading into the cave. This cave has a river in it, and you tour it by boat, which sounded cool. Tours depart every 15 minutes, according to the brochure, but it didn't say how many people per boat. Anyway, it looked like a 30-45 minute wait in line, so we decided to come back in the "off" season. Having paid for the parking spot, we went for a walk down the hill into town. It was hot in the sun, but nice in the shade. Words cannot well describe the beauty of this area. In case you didn't look up the town names as you read, we were in the "Peak District" - a national park. There were steep hills, rock outcroppings everywhere, smooth round hills divided by rock fences, pretty towns along hillsides all covered with flowers and sheep.
After we got back up the hill to the parking lot we were HOT, tired, thirsty, etc. There were public toilets at the parking lot, so we made good use of them, and then back to the car where we made a good impression on our case of bottled water that we'd brought with us.
With A/C blaring, we tried to find a path home. I had a route planned, but considering our success with following the directions up to this point, we decided to wing it. We headed generally south and east til we were back to the M1, which we followed south to the A14, which is the road that runs from Newmarket to Cambridge (and beyond, of course, but that stretch of it is familiar to us). We passed within a few miles of the "Nine Ladies" standing stone circle - it's supposed to be an "important" monument - but the road down to it isn't marked in any way, and I knew better than to try to find it, after the trouble we had in Castleton, so we went on toward home.
Running at 1/4 tank of gas, we thought it'd be a good idea to go to RAF Alconbury, an American Air base to the west of Cambridge, to fill up and have dinner. We found it without any trouble, and got there just in time, as it closes up early (being a teeny tiny place). We got over $80 worth of gas, and asked the station attendant where to eat. They have an Anthony's Pizza and a Subway next to the BX. Just for kicks, Bob went in the BX, which is smaller than the Lakenheath Shoppette, and whaddaya know? They had shower curtain rods. So we went to the food court and ordered a pizza (and chicken wings, and cheesesticks), and went outside to wait at the picnic table while the children played on the grass. Good cheesesticks.
Another 45 minutes or so and we were home, to find our parking space taken (well, the place we normally park on the side of the road), so we pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of our house and called that "good enough." It was good to take off our shoes and socks. Good to open the windows wide enough to let the breezes in. Good to sleep on a bed with a sheet instead of a duvet. Good to have my computer again. :-)
I'm sure I left out something important and interesting, but I think I hit the highlights, anyway. Bob is putting pictures on - click the link on the right of this page.